Types of Bird Nests

How to identify bird nests by their size and shape.

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Identifying Bird Nests

Weaver bird nest
Weaver bird in its nest. Photo by Tanvir Ibna Shafi/Getty Images

The majority of birds build some type of nest in order to lay their eggs and rear their young chicks.  Depending upon the bird, the nest may be large or small. It may be located in a tree, on a building, in a bush, on a platform over the water, or on the ground. And it may be made of mud, dried leaves, reeds, or dead trees. 

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Scrape Nests

Caspian tern scrape nest
The camouflaged of the Caspian tern rest here in the shallow depression of a scrape nest. Peter Chadwick/Getty Images

The scrape nest represents the simplest type of nest that a bird can build. It's typically just a scrape in the ground that makes a shallow depression for the birds to lay their eggs. The rim of a scrape nest is just deep enough to keep the eggs from rolling away. Some birds may add stones, feathers, shells, or leaves to the scrape.   

The eggs found in scrape nests are often camouflaged as their location on the ground makes them vulnerable to predators. Birds that build scrape nests tend to have precocial young, meaning that they are quickly able to leave the nest after hatching.

Scrape nests are made by ostriches, tinamous, shorebirds, gulls, terns, falcons, pheasants, quail, partridges, bustards, nighthawks, vultures, and a few other species.

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Burrow Nest

Atlantic puffin nest
An Atlantic puffin in her burrow nest. Andrea Thompson Photography/Getty Images

Burrow nests are shelters within trees or the ground that act as safe havens for birds and their developing young. Birds use their beaks and feet to carve out their burrows. Most birds create their own burrows, but some - such as burrowing owls - prefer to use those created by others. 

This type of nest is commonly used by seabirds, especially those that live in colder climates as a burrow nest can offer protection from both predators and the weather. Puffins, shearwaters, motmots, kingfishers, miners, the crab plover, and leaftossers are all burrow nesters.

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Cavity Nest

Boreal owl cavity nest
When no natural cavities can be found, cavity nesters may use nest boxes to rear their young. John E Marriott/Getty Images

Cavity nests are chambers found most often in trees - living or dead - that certain birds will use to raise their chicks.

Only a few bird species - such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, and barbets - are capable of excavating their own cavity nests. These birds are considered primary cavity nesters. But the majority of cavity nesters - birds like some ducks and owls, parrots, hornbills, and bluebirds - use natural cavities or those that were created and abandoned by another animal.

Cavity nesters often line their nests with leaves, dried grasses, feathers, moss, or fur. They will also utilize nest boxes if no other natural cavity can be found. 

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Platform Nest

Osprey platform nest
Osprey nest on a platform. Don Johnston/Getty Images

Platform nests are large, flat nests built in trees, on the ground, on the tops of vegetation, or even on debris in shallow water. Many platform nests are reused year after year by the same birds, with additional materials added to the nest with each use. This practice can create huge nests that damage trees - especially in bad weather.

Osprey, mourning doves, egrets, herons, and many raptors are the most common platform nesters. Raptor nests are also called 'eyries,' or 'aeries.'

 

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Cup Nest

Anna's hummingbird in a nest
A female Anna's hummingbird in a nest with her chick. Photography by Alexandra Rudge/Getty Images

As their name implies, cup - or cupped - nests are in fact cup-shaped. The are usually rounded with a deep depression in the center to house the eggs and chicks.

Hummingbirds, some flycatchers, swallows, and swifts, kinglets, vireos, crests, and some warblers are some of the birds that utilize this common nest shape.

Cupped nests are usually made with dried grasses and twigs that are stuck together using globs of saliva. Mud and spider webs may be used as well. 

 

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Mound nest

Flamingo mound nest
Lesser flamingos building mound nests on the edge of a shallow lake. Credit: Eastcott Momatiuk/Getty Images

Like burrow nests, mound nests serve the double purpose of protecting a bird's eggs from predators and keeping them warm in volatile weather.

Mound nests are often made from mud, branches, sticks, twigs, and leaves. Just as a compost pile heats up when organic material begins to decay, the dead mass in a mound nest will rot and give off precious heat to to incubate the chicks.

For most mound-building nesters, it is the males who create the nests, using their strong legs and feet to pile materials together. The female will only lay her eggs when the temperature inside the mound has reached what she considers an optimal level. Throughout the nesting season, male mound nesters will continue to add to their nests in order to keep them at the correct size and temperature.

Flamingoes, some coots, and brush turkeys are common mound nesters.

 

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Pendant Nest

Weaver bird nest
Weaver bird in its nest. Photo by Tanvir Ibna Shafi/Getty Images

Pendant nesters created an elongated sac suspended from a tree branch and made from pliable materials, such as grasses or very thin twigs, to house their young. Weavers, orioles, sunbirds, and caciques are common pendant nesters.